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Around 20% of meat plant workers are covered by sick pay, according to an industry spokesperson

Meat industry representatives appeared before the special Dáil committee on Covid this afternoon.

Image: Shutterstock/OVKNHR

A SPOKESPERSON FOR Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has told the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 Response that he doesn’t accept a TD’s claim that the sector’s reputation is “pretty much in tatters”. 

Industry representatives were answering questions from TDs about the recent outbreak of the virus at plants in the Midlands.

MII also confirmed that around 20% of workers in meat processing plants are offered sick pay by their employers. 

Separately, chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Sharon McGuinness told the committee that of the 39 inspections of meat plants that have been carried out in Ireland, nine were surprise-visits.

Responding to Fianna Fáil TD for Wexford James Browne, Cormac Healy, a senior director at MII, said that a “huge amount of work” has gone into the industry’s response to the challenges of Covid.

Healy said he did not accept Browne’s argument that the meat processing industry’s reputation has been negatively impacted by the outbreaks or by allegations around its treatment of workers.

“Back in April and May, there were so there were some 22 clusters, six of them large, not all the others large by any means. Continued work, stringent protocols and controls, working to those a situation throughout June and July where there were only five cases reported.

“Unfortunately now we have one plant that has had an outbreak and not all is known about that. That plant had gone through the entirety of the pandemic since the middle of March, without any single case,” Healy said.

Philip Carroll, chairman of MII, also defended the sector’s response to coronavirus outbreaks.

He said, “I want to assure the committee that our industry has worked diligently to protect employees throughout the course of this pandemic and continues to do so.”

Carroll said that “significant progress” had been made since his organisation last appeared before the committee in early July, with only one active Covid-19 cluster at a primary processing plant compared to 22 active clusters then.

He added, “Clusters don’t start in meat processing plants – Covid is introduced into meat plants but because they are a location where a lot of people work, there is a degree of certainty that there will be a formation of clusters.

“It is critically important that we have swift contact tracing and rapid results from tests so that in most circumstances clusters do not become serious.”

In response to a question from the committee chair, Clare independent TD Michael McNamara, Carroll also confirmed that just 20% of the workers in the industry are covered by sick pay.

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HSA chief executive McGuinness said the state body gives meat plants less than a day to prepare for an announced inspection.

She told the Dail’s Covid-19 committee, “With regard to the amount of notice given, this would be the night before or late evening for an inspection first thing in the morning.

“If it is an 8 am inspection, we would announce it at between 4.40 pm to 5 pm. If we were going to two plants in the same area, we would ring that plant to say we are on our way.”

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said it was important to get the timings surrounding inspections clarified.

Some 1,450 cases have been confirmed among meat plant workers since the start of the pandemic, with clusters of more than 100 in five separate meat plants in the country.

— Additional reporting by PA

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